Summer days, and the flat water meadows and the blue hills in the distance, and the willows up the backwater and the pools underneath like a kind of deep green glass. Summer evenings, the fish breaking the water, the nightjars hawking round your head, the smell of nightstocks and latakia. Don’t mistake what I’m talking about. It’s not that I’m trying to put across any of that poetry of childhood stuff. I know that’s all baloney. Old Porteous (a friend of mine, a retired schoolmaster, I’ll tell you about him later) is great on the poetry of childhood. Sometimes he reads me stuff about it out of books. Wordsworth. Lucy Gray. There was a time when meadow, grove, and all that. Needless to say he’s got no kids of his own. The truth is that kids aren’t in any way poetic, they’re merely savage little animals, except that no animal is a quarter as selfish.
A boy isn’t interested in meadows, groves, and so forth. He never looks at a landscape, doesn’tgive a damn for flowers, and unless they affect him in some way, such as being good to eat, he doesn’t know one plant from another. Killing things – that’s about as near to poetry as a boy gets. And yet all the while there’s that peculiar intensity, the power of longing for things as you can’t long when you’re grown up, and the feeling that time stretches out and out in front of you and that whatever you’re doing you could go on for ever.
The quote is taken from George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air. There’s a few authors who have been strangled by their best. I’d put Sherwood Anderson and Winesburg, Ohio in the category. Aldous Huxley and A Brave New World as well. Perhaps Joseph Conrad and Heart of Darkness. Others, however, have been strangled so only one work remains. In that category I put George Orwell, who is now synonymous with 1984 even though it is a simple parable that captures as much about him as Green Eggs and Ham captures the spirit of Dr. Seuss. That is to say, there is something captured but only a thing–a some. Not all or even most. Though there are other contenders for that crown, such as C. S. Lewis. His devotional, theological, science fictional and political writings have been reduced to a simple duality: Narnia and, for a select for, the Screwtape Letters. Or William Golding and Lord of the Flies. Truly, I blame high school curriculum. A little education is a dangerous thing. It makes me worry that we’ll one day remember, say, Truman Capote only for In Cold Blood or Toni Morrison for Beloved.
Anyhow, if your booklist is looking a little short I’d recommend going back to some of your high school’s standards. Or some of those authors who have written a ‘classic.’